This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on July 29, 2020.
The 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, conducted by Mountain Youth, provides valuable insight into how community organizations and community members can support local youth during COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the school year.
The most recent survey among local youth is an important tool for educators, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and community program providers to truly know what issues young people are facing and how to work together to help youth learn and thrive.
With COVID-19 impacting the local youth and the uncertainty of the school year, including extracurricular activities, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey conducted in 2019 indicates a need to focus immediately on protective factors for youth, including their need for social connection. About 70% of local youth engaged in extracurricular and pro-social activities such as sports, clubs, volunteerism or other positive engagements, and about 70% also recognized that they have an adult they can go to for help with a serious problem. Those adults could be a family member, coach, pastor, counselor, etc.
“Those are positives. As a community, if we can continue to focus and look for those opportunities, we can make an impact. Social interaction is vital for youth in our community, and we need to collectively create opportunities for connection,” said Chris Lindley, executive director of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, in a news release. “Between Mountain Youth, EVBH’s new Community Stream platform, UB.U, SpeakUp ReachOut, My Future Pathways, Bright Future Foundation, Cycle Effect, SOS Outreach, Walking Mountains, local recreation districts and many others, community organizations are rallying to provide those opportunities, and this data further proves the importance of that work. We must continue to make it a priority during these uncertain times.”
An initial indicator from the survey also shows that about a third of local youth reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row. This rate is consistent compared to previous surveys in 2017 and 2015. When broken down by subset, females and hispanics expressed experiencing these symptoms at a significantly higher rate.
“Mountain Youth diving deeper into the results of the survey allows our community to really hone in on how we can move the needle and make an impact within the population group of students that are experiencing certain risk factors,” Lindley said. “We are so grateful that this survey is conducted every two years by Mountain Youth, as it helps guide the decisions and discussions within our community.”
Mountain Youth recently received the results of the 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and is analyzing the data for trends and year-over-year comparisons. Since 2007, Mountain Youth has administered the statewide survey among private and public middle and high schools throughout the valley every other year, resulting in seven surveys during a 13-year time period.
“We are the only community in Colorado that has had 100% participation with 3,786 middle and high youth participating in 2019, and 2019 marked the first year we added 6th graders into the survey locally,” said Michelle Stecher, executive director at Mountain Youth. “Results clearly show youth behaviors and attitudes, identify needs, strengths and trends. It becomes an important resource for our community partners to utilize for decision making.”
“Eagle County School District has implemented Holistic Indicators to monitor and improve the social and emotional health of students,” said Phil Qualman, the district’s superintendent. “The HKCS serves as our primary data set in that dashboard and is incredibly valuable in helping the district adjust programming to be responsive to changing youth behaviors and attitudes.”
The survey provides insights into topics such as vaping, alcohol and marijuana use, bullying, depression, suicidal ideation, sexual behaviors, safety, and more.
“The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey provides a plethora of data, and we are cross-cutting by sub-demographics, such as sexual orientation and gender identity, for the first time ever so that we can use this data to help drive community conversations and dialogue around these specific topics,” said Stecher. “Eat Chat Parent is a perfect example of a forum that can benefit from understanding what topics our youth might be struggling with privately and that are brought into focus by this survey.”
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is possible in part thanks to support from all local schools, the United Way of the Eagle River Valley, Eagle County Government, the towns of Avon and Gypsum, SAMHSA, Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, UC Denver, and Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, an outreach of Vail Health.